It takes 27 outs to complete nine innings of a baseball game, and therefore the same amount to secure a no-hitter. The St. Louis Cardinals went that many and half over again – 40 straight outs – between Paul Goldschmidt’s single in the fourth inning Wednesday and José Martínez’s base knock in the eighth inning Friday.
In between, they won a series, popped champagne corks, made a folk hero of Washington starter Aníbal Sánchez, and fell into an early hole in the National League Championship Series, losing its first game 2-0 to the Washington Nationals.
“There’s complete hope,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt of his team’s offense. “We had a really good offensive club. Sánchez was really good tonight. Not a lot out there that we saw, that I saw that was in the middle, really changed speeds, did a terrific job.”
Martinez, who collected St. Louis’ only hit in the series opener Friday, says today’s pitchers, with their high-rate fastballs and ability to control their complimentary off-speed pitches, can challenge hitters from at-bat to at-bat.
“I think right now in the big leagues, that’s the pitches you actually get scared of,” said Martínez. “Everybody’s like high rate fastballs and 99 and whatever. When you’re facing a guy like that, of course you have to chance your approach. You have to adjust.”
Sánchez walked Kolten Wong in the second inning and hit two batters with a pitch – Randy Arozarena, hitting for Miles Mikolas in the sixth, and Yadier Molina in the seventh. Those three and Martínez were the only base runners the Nationals would allow, as Sean Doolittle followed Sánchez to record a four out save.
Despite getting active on the bases, the Cardinals were unable to generate any sustained offense. Wong and Arozarena each stole second base and advanced to third, Wong on a throwing error by Washington catcher Yan Gomes and Arozarena on a Dexter Fowler groundout. After Arozarena was stranded at third base in the sixth, the Cardinals did not move another runner past first base.
“It’s interesting, it’s baseball, it’s one of the reasons we love it,” Shildt said. “We scored 13 in an elimination game and came right back and the guy threw a great game. But there’s nothing but optimism about all our players and our offense for sure. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Wednesday’s offensive explosion against Atlanta was composed of two distinct halves of game. The Cardinals sent 27 men to the plate in that game’s first three innings and only 19 in its last six. They struck out eight times in the final five innings of that game and seemed to fall into a lull that was masked by their early success.
Martínez, for one, didn’t see any correlation between the two.
“Nah, I think (Sanchez) just pitched a good game,” Martínez said. “He just made his ideas, what was the plan against us, and he executed. You score 10 runs, of course you never feel comfortable or satisfied. That doesn’t happen a lot. Especially in the playoffs, you know? He pitched good, and tomorrow is a new day for us.”
Asked if Sánchez had been perhaps overlooked in favor of Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, Shildt bristled.
“This guy’s an accomplished pitcher in this league and has done a nice job for their club,” he said. “That’s why before the game when we had our little gathering here people were talking about the big three and I said hey, we’re going to respect them, we’re familiar with them but we got a guy tonight that we got to contend with, and not overlook him.
“And we didn’t. He was just really good, made a lot of quality pitches and didn’t give us a lot we could put good swings on.”
The Cardinals’ feast-or-famine offense has struggled against off speed and breaking pitches throughout the season, as recently highlighted by Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz’s slider dominance in the second game of the NLDS. The challenge will be to make proper adjustments with a clock ticking loudly in the background as they seek to avoid a two-game deficit before the series turns to the District of Columbia on Monday.
“A guy like that, it’s weird to make a mistake because he’s got no velocity,” Martínez said. “So he’s mainly just trying to hit spots and make you chase, and I think that’s what he did today, and we couldn’t figure it out. I think we’ll be alright tomorrow. It’s gonna be a new day.”
Shildt won’t overreact either when he fills out the lineup card for Game 2 Saturday.
“I can do anything within reason with our roster to put our lineup out,” Shildt said. “I understand the question, but I find it interesting when essentially the same lineup just scored 13 runs.
“I’m not going to be knee-jerk with one game when we just got through winning a series. And we have gotten to this point with the group that we have, with guys that have taken good at-bats. So don’t know how else to further answer that one.”
Should the St. Louis offense similarly lack a response, the stay in the Championship Series could be a short one.